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Not too big, not too small; effectively matching students to the right reading material

A guest blog from Sue Murray at MangoMarketing.com

We all remember how, for Goldilocks, the first bowl of porridge was too hot, the second too cold but the last one was just right. Getting the right ‘fit’ is always a challenge. Similarly, when it comes to education and literacy, are we correctly matching each child’s reading ability to the right books?

At a time when the quality of our textbooks is being scrutinised and we continue to slip down the international league tables (The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)) we know officials are asking the same question.

For teachers and librarians this has long been a concern.  They  realize that if Year 6 pupils are presented with reading materials at a level of complexity above their reading ability, absorbing the information could be quite challenging, and could result in frustration – frustration that could result in children losing their love of books. Conversely, materials written significantly below a pupil’s ability level may mean that, in the absence of challenge, the pace learning and improvement in standards is limited.  In other words, high levels of frustration are counter-productive to reading growth and lead to a fear of reading, while reading texts at too low a level mean that students will not be challenged and are unlikely to grow their literacy skills.

For years, in an effort to solve this problem school books have been leveled according to the 11 ‘book bands’ used in primary schools. There are several issues with this model.  The first lies in the fact that each publisher applies the band based on their own assessment of their reading material. This subjectivity means that there is often little continuity between publishers’ series.  In other words, one book at Book Band X may actually be much more complex than the text at the same Book Band from another series. So if a child arrives at a school having previously used another reading scheme, the effort to match the student to the right level may result in an inaccurate match.  The difficulty is even more pronounced if a child arrives at school from overseas where they don’t use the UK book bands, and thus there’s no accurate way to match the student to the appropriate level of text.  Furthermore, after a child reaches Key Stages 3 and 4, book bands no longer apply. What is an educator to do? There is a solution.

Enter the Lexile Measure. The Lexile metric can be applied to both students and texts allowing for a scientifically sound, objective by design, match between a pupil’s ability and text difficulty. A wide variety of assessment companies now report a student’s Lexile measure; and many textbook and trade book publishers measure their titles using the Lexile metric. Thus a pupil that has received her own Lexile measure can easily find books of interest at just the right difficulty. This single metric removes the subjectivity and confusion of multiple competing schemes, replacing it with an objective scale for gauging a pupil’s growth.

In fact, more than 200 publishers across the world, such as Scholastic and McGraw Hill, are now utilising the Lexile reading measure.  

The Lexile Framework is not another test or a reading intervention program, and best of all, the Lexile Framework adds value to classroom assessments – adding more information, not more testing time.

The Lexile Framework was recently applied to both the 2016 Reading Test SATs and to available textbooks for primary and secondary pupils. The findings of these two studies suggest that there is a disconnect between the classroom materials available for pupils and the difficulty of the assessments. In both cases the assessment material was found to be more challenging than the textbooks. In fact, there was a substantial (300L) difference between the median textbook measure for Year 6 and the Key Stage 2 test. By tying day-to-day work in the classroom through the library books read, to critical high-stakes tests, the Lexile Framework offers a “big picture” view of growth of student reading ability from preschool through to adult learning.
So the question is, do librarians have enough information about each book to be able to match each student with published material correctly aligned to their own reading level? If we are to improve our standards in British schools we must intelligently and accurately align publishers’ materials with each student’s reading level so that in turn, teachers and librarians can assign the appropriate books to each child.

For further information on the Lexile Framework for Reading and a list of more than 200 publishers using the measure, please visit https://lexile.co.uk/.

* The study was based on textbooks written specifically for the new 2015 National Curriculum. If textbooks written specifically for the new curriculum were not yet available or in reprint, textbooks deemed still appropriate for the curriculum by their publisher were included.


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